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Do Dogs Know if You Accidentally Hurt Them?

It’s something that has happened to almost every dog owner. You’re not watching where you are going, and you accidentally step on your dog’s paw or trip over them in the kitchen. They yelp and then give you a look as if to say, “But why?”

You wish you could explain that it was just a mistake, and you may even wonder if your dog knows it was an accident?

Despite not being able to say you are sorry, your dog will probably know the difference between being intentionally hurt and accidentally hurt. As highly intelligent and intuitive animals, dogs can pick up on several emotional cues and read a human’s body language. If you remain calm and don’t make a habit of it, they are likely to assume there was no ill will behind it if you accidentally hurt them.

After hurting your dog, you may be tempted to shower your pooch with affection to show them you are sorry, but whether this is the right reaction is debatable. We can further explore this idea by looking at several factors that affect how we respond to our dog after accidentally hurting them.

I Accidentally Hurt My Dog; Now What?

It’s vital to remember that accidents happen. If you have accidentally hurt your dog, try not to feel dejected. The one thing about dogs is they rarely hold grudges. 

It can be challenging because we aren’t able to communicate effectively with our pets. Still, if you have accidentally hurt your dog, the first thing you need to do is check how hurt they are.

Dogs notably react to pain differently to humans, and not all dogs have the same pain threshold. A study entitled, “Do dog breeds differ in pain sensitivity?” found smaller dogs feel more pain than bigger breeds (source).

How your dog responds to pain will also be different depending on the dog and the severity of the injury. 

After your dog is hurt, you may find that they won’t come to you. You may also notice your dog exhibiting body language, such as keeping its tail between its legs. If this is the case, you can ask someone else to check on them or even phone a vet (source).

You can offer your dog a treat and see if that might convince them to allow you to examine them. If the dog is hurt and requires medical treatment, then take him or her to the vet. 

How Should You React?

how to react when you accidentally hurt your dog

How you should react to hurting your dog differs from person to person. For most, the natural reaction is to apologize to the dog and offer them affection. While this reaction isn’t wrong, it is not always the best reaction.

You may be wondering why showing love isn’t the best reaction, and that’s due to the way in which dogs make positive associations (source).

Dogs are aware of the instances in which they are offered affection. It is usually offered as a reward when they do something right. 

When they are hurt and feel emotions such as fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, it may further confuse the dog to receive affection. This is because the dog may regard it as a reward for having these negative feelings.

Thus, by offering them affection after hurting them, you are affirming their fear. Instead of showing your dog affection after accidentally hurting them, you should instead try and move on from it without making a fuss.

Because dogs communicate through body language, they are also experts at reading humans body language (source).

Studies have revealed that dogs have the mental capacity of a two-year-old child. While this differs from breed to breed, it means that your dog may have the ability to recognize you’re sorry (source).

As such, most dogs will be able to tell that you did not purposefully hurt them merely by your body language and facial expressions.

Whether or not to show your dog affection after hurting them will differ from dog to dog. It will also be affected by factors such as the dog’s temperament, how long you’ve had the dog, as well as your relationship with the dog.

Another question that dog owners sometimes wonder and that relates back to a dog’s mental faculties is whether dogs remember being hit at all

How to Avoid Hurting Your Dog Accidentally

How to Avoid Hurting Your Dog Accidentally

The optimal way to help your dog understand an accident is just an accident is by not allowing it to become a routine. This means you must do everything in your power not to hurt your dog accidentally.

As a dog owner, you’ll be aware if accidentally stepping on their tail or tripping over them is becoming a common occurrence. If so, then you need to put steps in place to eliminate accidents such as these.

Because dogs want to be with you, they will often follow their owner and lie as close to them as possible. Your first step is to watch where you are going. This is especially important with small dogs who may get under your feet relatively easily.

When it comes to bigger dogs, they may lie in spots that allow them to be tripped over or stepped on. Dogs with black fur can be tricky to see in the dark. One way to avoid this is to offer your dog a designated mat or bed to lie on, so they don’t get hurt. 

Be aware of some of the dogs’ most sensitive parts, such as their noses, paws, and tails. These may differ based on the dog (source).

Always check the dog’s tail is not in the door or cupboard before closing it. If your dog spends time in the yard, be sure that they can’t get behind the wheels of the car.

By simply being more aware that you are sharing your space with your dog and being more mindful, you can stop such accidents from occurring and put both your mind and your pet’s mind at ease.

Final Thoughts

For a dog lover, there is nothing more heartbreaking than accidentally hurting your dog. How you choose to handle the situation is a personal choice. This choice will depend on the dog as well as your relationship with your pet.

We can be grateful for a dog’s highly attuned emotional senses and their ability to read body language. It means that we can be almost entirely sure that our dog will know we had no intention of hurting them, and they will forgive instantly. 


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